‘I missed out on years of adoring you’ Laura Dockrill’s apology letter to food

As her new book on food and body image is published, author Laura Dockrill says ‘I’m sorry I pretended to hate you for so long’…

Growing up I was two things – a goody-goody and a foodie. And that combination made me pretty chubby. Being told I was a ‘good girl’ if I finished every plate of food with a smear ‘mop up’ (as Dad called it) of bread and a clean lick of the knife was fine by me. What a great life – all I had to do was eat and get told a ‘very well done’.

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But in my early teens the chub caught up with me, and adults no longer wanted me sitting on their laps, ballroom dancing on their feet or putting me on their shoulders at gigs. I was ‘bubbly’ now, a ‘growing girl’ who ‘enjoyed her food’. Squeezing out of my school uniform, my clothes just seemed to get tighter and tighter; I was swelling bigger and bigger as my confidence shrank. And food became the enemy. The reason I wasn’t ‘pretty’ (360 degree eyeball-roll!). I spent most of my lunch breaks not heartily stuffing down peanut butter sandwiches and apples but stuffed in the cloakroom with my girlfriends, starving and taking turns to hate on ourselves like it was some mad frenzied competition to see who disliked themselves the most. We never stuck up for ourselves; we never said what we liked about being growing young women. We were just kids – but we never gave ourselves a chance.

Big Bones is a cathartic fight back to all of those years spent anxiety-ridden about body image and self-esteem. While researching this book I went to my mum’s attic to hunt for my teenage diaries and was so distressed by them. They were bleak and mean. There I was, talking absolute nonsense about what foods were ‘forbidden’ from my fourteen-year-old self: wheat, sugar, carbs and then the ‘anything beginning with C’ (cheese, chocolate, croissants, chips . . . I mean . . . WHAT THE ACTUAL?). I mean, what’s so wrong with a potato?! Potatoes are the only reason I don’t mind the rain. Rain helps potatoes to grow.

But this never lasted. Like the boy who fancies you in primary school so much that his only coping mechanism is to call you names and punch you in the arm, well, that was me. I pretended to hate food so much that it became all I thought about. I obsessed over food because I was IN LOVE WITH IT. Pretending I liked that dry cracker, the hamster-food bran flakes, my salad without dressing.

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So I decided to be that boy who actually plucks up the courage to ask that girl he always fancied out on a date, and start by saying sorry to food for all the arm punches and name calling. Because once food is understood, a weight is literally lifted off your shoulders.

I want young people to learn that food is powerful. It’s nourishment, enjoyment, a conversation. It’s not ‘out to get you’ to betray you by making you look ‘bad’ in a bikini, or to block you from getting a snog. Food is your friend in a positive way. It shows that you care for yourself and for others. It sticks with you, becomes a tapestry in the background, marking your history, your journey and experiences . . . It’s a simple, kind way of saying ‘I love you’. A way of saying ‘I’m sorry’. Or to break the ice, to welcome somebody in or to soothe the soul with comfort. From egg-fried rice to melty cheese on toast or salty beach chips, to carving the alligator-egg skin of a ripe avocado or the fleshy bum of a plump peach, food is there to see you through. Not out to get you. A saviour.

So sorry, food, that I missed out on all those years that I could have spent gobbling you up and adoring you. I’m making up for that now.

Recipe: Laura’s go-to comfort food, lentil bolognese

This recipe really takes care of itself – it’s cheap, comforting, tasty and healthy and so hard to mess up. I think it’s miles better than meat substitute and much healthier for you than the meat!

FOR THE BOLOGNESE
A glug of olive oil
1 onion
1 pack of mushrooms, chopped
3 garlic cloves
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of sugar
A bay leaf (if you have one knocking around)
115g dried red lentils
A glug of red wine
2 tins tomatoes
1 vegetable stock pack
Salt
Pepper

Heat the oil until it’s nice and glassy and gently fry up your onions and garlic until they are shiny and the onions show off their pinstripe suits and go transparent. Add the chopped mushrooms until they soften and a pinch of oregano and a bay leaf, then the lentils for just a minute or so and fry up all together. Then add the red wine and let that soak into the lentils.

If you like to add other stuff to your spag bol, now would be a good time to do that – my sister adds rosemary, my dad adds Marmite and Mum Worcestershire sauce. Once the liquid is pretty all soaked up I add tinned tomatoes with a pinch of sugar and the stock. You can add water to loosen it if you think it needs it – it depends how juicy you like your Bolognese (i.e.do you plan on stuffing it down with garlic bread or not?).

Check your seasoning and then throw that thing in the oven on low. Serve with spaghetti and add whatever you like – cheese, oil, chilli or basil all work really nicely.

Big Bones by Laura Dockrill is published by Hot Key Books (available from 8th March)